Aisha Purvis of Sensmart
Drawing on her professional experience in healthcare, along with her personal experience as a carer, Aisha Purvis founded Sensmart to address malnutrition, dehydration and food-waste in care settings. She shares her big aspirations for the future of this brand new start-up and her hopes to effect wide-reaching change
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Sensmart revolutionises health-tech to tackle malnutrition, dehydration, emotional eating, extended hospital stays and food waste. We aim to tackle societal inequalities by providing nutritional guidance in the form of multi sensory interactive aids specifically catered to individuals limited with physical or mental impairments
What was the driving force in starting your own business in the rare disease space? Was there an unmet need you were responding to?
I strive to make changes and implementations to current systems to make society a better place for my daughter. When it’s time to retire I want to know that I can fully trust care provider settings to meet my daughters needs in the best and most holistic way possible.
I am a parent/carer for my nine-year-old stepdaughter Millie who has Rett syndrome. Rett syndrome is a rare neurological and developmental disorder affecting the development of the brain, cognition, and a progressive loss of motor skills. As a student nurse with previous managerial experience in residential care homes, I was allocated placements in both private and public sector settings, ranging from adult general social care to the elderly with complex needs or diagnosis of a dementia and CVA (stroke) rehabilitation. I identified there was an issue with malnutrition and dehydration in healthcare settings. Further research showed that this was a significant issue in individuals with elements of impairments, progressive degenerative disorders and diagnoses of a disability or neurological deficit, including developmental delays.
As a parent of a child with a disability who is non-verbal, I am aware that she relies heavily on her caregivers to make choices surrounding daily nutritional intake. Often staff in care homes will refer to a patient’s care plan or their relatives with regards to their food preferences. I began to explore how much of an effect the deterioration in individuals with a progressive degenerative disorder or neurological deficit had on their sense of smell, taste and touch. This led to the development of my innovative product that utilises olfactory, tactile, visual and auditory stimulation. It allows for equal opportunities and promotes choice and independence, in the hope that food waste amongst trusts is minimised, along with malnutrition and dehydration, to enhance the overall wellbeing of individuals.
How does your business benefit the rare disease community?
We aim to tackle societal inequalities by providing nutritional guidance in the form of multi-sensory interactive aids, specifically catered to individuals with an impairment. In doing so we hope to reduce the cost of care which is predicted in the BAPEN (British Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition) report to be three times more than an individual who is well nourished and hydrated. Also to reduce food waste reported in the care sectors by possibly giving back to the community to aid families who are experiencing financial hardship.
We aim to promote equality, diversity and independence in both public and private care sectors allowing individuals to feel empowered to actively engage in their own dietary intake.
Implementation into the curriculum at a young age to encourage and promote healthier foods, as well as cultural dishes reducing the risk of discrimination and bullying, and physical health issues such as childhood obesity.
We are in discussion with the Academic Health Science Networks (AHSN) as to whether our aids could be utilised as a rehabilitation tool for those with eating disorders, who are on the road to recovery, to reintroduce them to the visual and olfactory elements of trigger or fear foods.
The hospitality and leisure industry is now making a recovery comeback from the most recent COVID 19 pandemic where 10 per cent of businesses were lost with over 600,000 jobs lost in the economy as a whole. We hope to aid the current cost of living crisis by the reduction of food waste across the NHS and private care providers and put back into the community.
What advice, if any, did you get when setting up your business? Has there been anyone in particular who has been pivotal in supporting your business?
My partner, without doubt deserves a medal for supporting me through this journey. My family and friends and professional support network have helped me immensely from my initial idea to the development of the aid. And my COO Alex Chikhani has helped a great deal with enhancing my knowledge and development of all things business related.
I had absolutely zero experience in setting up a business or company, never mind how to run one. It was something I had not considered as I thought I would be too busy with my undergraduate degree as well as being out on placement and caring for my daughter. But everyone encouraged me to take this further to potentially help hundreds more people and really make an impact. I reached out to David Summerbell, the Ecosystems manager at Barclays Tuspark Eagle labs, located in Newcastle who introduced me to Robyn Townsend, the engineer who helped me produce my minimum viable product (MVP). Eagle labs are so welcoming and go above and beyond. They also allowed me the opportunity to get onto their funding readiness programme which provided me with so many learning opportunities that I will be eternally grateful for.
One element of our website which is currently being developed is to offer a platform for other parents/carers or individuals limited by an impairment to follow their dreams and ideas. If they have had an idea but felt that’s all it can be, I want to provide that motivation and encouragement to say “you can do it!” And here’s my research and contacts so far to help you on your way.
How do you manage the demands of running a business with your own health needs, those of someone you care for, or those of your employees?
I have always had a fast-paced work ethic. I didn’t have the greatest upbringing myself and I have always been extremely pro-active with an overactive thought and planning process which fortunately for me was helpful in this sense. I have always had a passion and I am driven toward making positive implementations where systems are not working or where we can improve them. There have been several occasions where my mental wellbeing declined due to burnout over the COVID 19 pandemic, additional stress and carer burden, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. As an undergraduate mental health nursing student we need to raise awareness that everybody experiences mental health problems throughout their life—it’s a normal biological response. I have a particular interest in somatic experiencing which I utilise myself through breathing exercise grounding techniques.
What advice do you have for someone starting their own business?
Don’t let anything hold you back, utilise funding programmes and accelerator programmes. Partake in any workshops that hold interest to you and your business idea. I have found it extremely insightful to attend forums and workshops to enhance my knowledge further.
What are the most rewarding aspects of establishing and running your own business?
For me the most rewarding aspect of establishing Sensmart is being a voice for individuals and to help support others. My ultimate satisfaction is being able to represent people and provide empowerment and choice with the concept of bridging gaps and shortfalls in systems and to hopefully save lives.
What would you consider to be the greatest achievements of your business thus far?
Being able to identify that there is a public health matter at hand and providing a solution to minimise the likelihood of recurrence. Partnering with UK charity Rett UK to raise further awareness and understanding about my own daughter’s condition but also collaborating with the AHSN to implement my products into the public health service.
What advice would you give someone considering working in the rare disease space?
We have had challenges to overcome throughout the journey, and we overcame them through the use of video conferencing technology as well as being resourceful in our messaging.
Being a young, bootstrapped business has also been a challenge, but perseverance coupled with our innovative approach and networking with the right organisations has helped move the business forward.
My advice would be to utilise the virtual meetings, attend networking events and forums—it’s extremely helpful to listen to others and learn from their stories.
What are your hopes for the future of your business?
To develop regional multi-sensory interactive aids across healthcare services, both public and private, specifically catered to individuals with sensory impairments. They will include more diversity to meet the needs of all individuals. We aim to make a societal impact supporting inequalities with an international implementation of empowering aids. We hope to raise some investment to grow our team and create a truly diverse workspace where we can support individuals with caring responsibilities to access the support they need to go out and start their own business venture.
If you hadn’t founded Sensmart Ltd., what was Plan B? What did your 10-year-old self want to be?
If not for Sensmart I would still be attempting to raise awareness and implement systems through the workplace.
To find out more about the work of Sensmart please visit: